Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Junks That Aren't Junk

The Earnshaw Books reprints series is shaping up into a very nice list. I did a foreword for their first publication – Carl Crow’s Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom and have enjoyed what’s followed – Sapajou’s Shanghai Schemozzle from 1937, Princess Der Ling’s Two Years in the Forbidden City and Isabella Bird’s The Yangtze Valley and Beyond among others. Excellently I know Crow’s Four Hundred Million Customers is in the works and some other true China classics. I’ll try and note them all as they appear – or as I get around to reading them.

I’ve just finished the reprint of Ivon A. Donnelly’s Chinese Junks and Other Native Craft which includes the lavish illustrations and watercolours reproduced in full colour along with an excellent introduction by Gareth Powell. I’ll assume the vast majority of people reading this are, like me, a bit too young to have arrived in China in time to see the last great fleets of junks – you’d have to been here in the 1970s to see that. We have to make do with the few sampans around in Hong Kong and up the Yangtze.

Powell’s introduction educated me in just how advanced many junk designs were as sailing vessels. They’re an impressive size and their sterns rear up gracefully and to great heights. But sadly they’re gone now - at least the working non-engined originals. A few months back I did hop a sampan from Aberdeen in Hong Kong across to Lamma Island and I suppose I’ll have to resign myself that that is probably the nearest I’ll ever get to genuine junk sailing (I naturally do not include those horrific replicas ex-pat bankers get drunk on in Hong Kong).

The picture above is of a Chinese Junk from the Collection of Original Water Colors of Chinese Junks and Other Craft held at the Library of the The Mariners’ Museum.


Tony B said...

I have just ordered your reprint of Chinese Junks and Other Native Craft to add to my collection . Donnelly was my grandfather and I have copies of everything he published including some obscure tourits guides . I am glad you chose to reprint it - the Graham Brash 1988 version is a bit tacky !It is amazing how many people are fascinated by junks and refer to his publications !

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